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Monday, July 14, 2014

Premier Greg Selinger thanks military as troops pull out of Manitoba flood zone

WINNIPEG - With the flood threat dropping across much of southern Manitoba Friday, the military began to pull out of the region and government officials started tallying up the damage from a week of surging water.

Repairs to roads and bridges in the western part of the province, where the Assiniboine River rose first, will cost an estimated $200 million, the provincial government said.

Another $60 million in farm aid will be needed to compensate for about 3,840 square kilometres that cannot be seeded this year due to flooding. More money is expected to be needed for livestock producers.

Premier Greg Selinger thanked the more than 500 military and reserve members who were deployed after he declared a state of emergency a week ago. They set up hundreds of thousands of sandbags, shored up dikes and monitored them for leaks.

"To get those people here ... with the equipment and skills and the training that they brought to the table has made a gigantic difference."

With the Assiniboine falling in most areas, most of the military personnel were headed back to their bases Friday. A small number were to remain behind in case an emergency arose and to help with aerial surveillance of the river.

The Assiniboine rose suddenly last week due to heavy rainfall upstream in Saskatchewan that fell on ground that was already saturated. As the days went by, the river crested in various communities very close to the tops of dikes and riverbanks. More than 700 people were evacuated - the vast majority as a precaution due to concerns their road access might be washed out.

There were still concerns Friday about a second crest in Brandon. The Assiniboine had risen to roughly the same level Friday that it did in 2011, when residents in low- lying areas were evacuated. This time, however, the province's second-largest city has an improved dike system that was expected to keep back the water throughout the weekend.

Many of the evacuees both this year and during the last big flood in 2011 have been from First Nation communities such as Lake St. Martin, where residents are still out of their homes from the 2011 deluge.

Aboriginal leaders meeting in Winnipeg Friday said they were frustrated at the lack of an agreement to find new homes for residents of the flood-prone reserve. Selinger said he was working on a deal with the federal government, which has jurisdiction over First Nations.

"I have to say it requires more patience than I probably have. I'd like to have it done and in place now."

The aboriginal leaders also accused the province of flooding their land, via diversions and dams, in order to protect Winnipeg and other large communities.

"When heavy melts and rains continue, the province releases flood waters into First Nation communities," said a written statement from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

"This flooding is unnecessary with proper planning. The province knows the potential flood risks and it has a duty to ameliorate these risks."

Selinger said the government has worked on more flood-protection for First Nation communities, including a new outlet on Lake St. Martin to keep water levels down. -CP-

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